Reflections Day 2

So many powerful discussions today. To focus on one seems a disservice to the others. Be it the self-imposed deception of a ‘routine’ hospital encounter or the exceptional testimony of the panel of family of victims of medical error, it truly was a humbling day as a medical professional.

The session on caring for the caregiver and the fishbowl discussion afterwards was exceedingly important. I was really moved by the case that was shared and how the medical system failed to rally around this physician and help her heal. Even when a health system does not try to fire the physician on their path towards safety, the collateral damages to a healthcare provider’s life can be enormous. In this case it derailed a career. The humbling part for me is, had I been the physician taking care of that patient I would have responded the exact same way she did.

In my training I have been honored to be a part of a monthly group called “The Things They Carried.” It is loosely themed after the Tim O’Brien memoir of short stories from the Vietnam war. In this monthly made up of just hematology/oncology fellows we disclose the dirty laundry of tending to those with cancer. The pain and grief we feel when we lose a patient we are especially close to. The guilt of a treatment decision that turned out poorly. The unspoken fear that oncologists also feel as their patients come in for that next scan. The sleepless nights when you think you made a mistake and someone got hurt. The pain in the eyes of the patient’s loved ones as they hear that time is much shorted than they hoped. We try to create an environment that acknowledges the weighty stuff we deal with on a daily basis, provide an outlet where we normalize and validate the feelings we all struggle with, and instill encouragement and resilience for the days ahead. I have been on the receiving end of such care for the caregiver so many times and it has made the difference between me lapsing into despair and self-medication. I wish we had such systems for all caregivers. Who can say what fork in the road I may have taken had it not been the care this caregiver received?

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